It was pre-season, 1985. Geelong was playing an inter-club practice match in Anglesea and I went with a girl called Samantha.
I lived on the coast at the time, renting a cosy, but basic two bedroom pre-fab unit for $45 a week. The landlord, an easy-going farmer from Colac, was rapt to have me as a tenant simply because I reliably paid the rent. There were two units attached either side of a shared carport on a large block that was bushy at the front, but barren-grassy at the rear allowing access to a lengthy clothesline propped up by tilting poles. Now, a two-story, brick mansion occupies the front yard. I think the units still exist, hidden behind it.
I was pretending to be a writer. I say “pretending” because I spent far more time thinking about it than doing it. Not much has changed. Researching life, I kidded myself. I did a lot of reading though, a lot of it about cosmology, which I found enthralling. That followed a childhood fascination with starry nights when I learned the basics about our solar system and the usual constellations. Now I was being amazed by mind-bending discoveries made at the beginning of the 20th Century that wouldn’t seep into public consciousness until the very end of it.
Samantha was from South Africa and knew little about Aussie Rules, but she told me she once dated a Fitzroy player. She spoke with a private-school accent and held conservative views, though it didn’t require much of my charm to chisel rough edges.
She had been a champion swimmer in her homeland. ‘Home’ was now well and truly Australia due to her father’s insistence that once they decided to live in another country they should totally embrace it – full commitment.
The Cats could be non-committal, flirting with fame but getting cold feet when it was within reach. They could be entertaining as well, and were about to start one of their most exciting eras.
I could flirt with form and be a non-committal bugger myself, especially in ways that meant conforming to expected norms. I didn’t necessarily dislike the herd, but you had to keep an eye on it.
But at the footy the herd made the game!
I didn’t own a car, so we parked Samantha’s beside the oval on the outskirts of town nestled among an amphitheatre of hills forested with gangling eucalypts. Below, the trees gave way to heath closer to shore. The oval was usually occupied by grazing kangaroos that hopped off on match days leaving behind their dung (so, it’s only logical the local team adopted North Melbourne’s persona). The ground appears to be in an exposed position facing the south-west prevailings, but is actually often strangely protected from them. It was calm and sunny today.
We sat in front of the car and watched the game. It was just a practice match. I didn’t comment much on it and Samantha didn’t reveal curiosity.
Bernard Toohey was yet to depart the Cats with Greg Williams for a non-committal twenty pieces of the shiny stuff. He was the most heard player, calling behind packs, “B.T, B.T.”.
We observed in a leisurely, distracted way, enjoying the environs, talking aimlessly, probably having a drink or eating a pie.
After a while though, by about half way through the second quarter, a series of on-field exploits defying logic and gravity had accumulated.
Samantha’s attention latched onto them. She turned to me and asked: “Who’s number five?”